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Cost of rolling out abortion services in Ireland will be 'significant', says Harris

The abortion legislation will be introduced in the Dáil next week

Updated Sep 27th 2018, 4:00 PM

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Simon Harris said he wants to be clear that there will be a  “significant” cost to rolling out abortion services in Ireland next year. 

It is understood the minister briefed the Cabinet today of an estimated figure, however, Harris said he would not be making it public today. 

The cost is currently being worked through with the Department of Health and the Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe in the estimates process for this year’s Budget, he explained. 

There are also contractual obligations that must be sorted out with GPs and medical practitioners who will be providing the service. 

In the coming weeks, how to best resource doctors to provide terminations in primary care centres will be worked out, said the minister. 

“This will be a significant cost – I want to be very clear about that,” he said. 

“This is not something that can in any way be short-changed,” he added, stating the service must be resourced adequately in order to have a “safe, woman-centered” approach and one that women can be confident in.

He said the final figure “won’t be crystallised for another few months.

 Abortion legislation before the Dáil next week

The minister intends to publish the text of the abortion legislation over the coming days and introduce it in the Dáil next week.

Harris today sought Cabinet approval for the text of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018, which will provide for access to terminations without restrictions up to the 12 weeks of pregnancy.

It will also provide for access to terminations when a mother’s life or health is at risk, and when there is a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality.

The legislation follows on from May’s referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution.

Harris today reaffirmed his commitment to the introduction of safe access zones to prevent women being intimidated or harassed when seeking services.

During the referendum campaign, concerns were raised about women being subjected to posters or protests outside doctors clinics and hospitals.

The minister sought legal advice as to who to introduce the safe access zones, and he has decided the zones will be established in a companion piece of legislation.

Speaking to reporters after Cabinet today, Harris said: 

I find it reprehensible that a maternity hospital in this country has to tweet out information telling women accessing their hospital to be, kind of careful, maybe consider another route in because of people engaging, in what they consider to a form or protest, but that is something that is extraordinarily upsetting, obscene imagery, and is in some ways harassing both people working in hospital and people accessing the hospital,” the minister said today.  

He said he has a duty of care to protect health care workers and citizens. 

The minister said he remains committed to commencing abortion services in Ireland by 1 January 2019. 

“I don’t think anyone can step back from this timeline… we have to be ambitious,” said Harris.

He added that three things have to happen before services can be established.

The law must be passed, which he said is his job.

The government needs to ensure there is adequate medication in the country – this is the job of the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), he explained.

The agency recently told the Oireachtas Health Committee it believes it will be in a position to supply the medication needed come January. Thirdly, the minister said the medical profession has to “step up”. 

Harris said he respects the leadership shown by many doctors to date, but he said medical professionals cannot “shirk” their responsibilities. 

The minister plans to meet with all relevant stakeholders next week.

On the issue of eligibility, the minister said the provision of termination of pregnancy services will be on the basis of universal access.

In relation to crisis pregnancies, the minister said all agencies, regardless of who owns them or runs them, if they are funded by the taxpayer should make all information relating to abortion services available to women. 

“I don’t think that is a very radical concept to have. Trust women, trust their decisions,” he added. 

Earlier this year, The Times Ireland reported that an audit by the HSE found that almost half of state-funded crisis pregnancy agencies did not give out information on abortion.

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will not apply the whip on the Bill, which is due before the Dáil next Thursday.

Both parties have said it is an issue of conscience. The legislation is expected to pass both Houses of the Oireachtas easily, however it is understood the Dáil might sit an extra day next week – on Friday – in order to get the Bill over Second Stage. 

TDs who campaigned against repealing the Eighth Amendment have said they will not block the legislation’s passage following the referendum result.

Last week, the Oireachtas Health Committee was told “there isn’t any evidence” for a three-day wait period for a woman to obtain an abortion.

However, in recent days, Harris said he would accept amendments to the abortion legislation which would shorten or get rid of the wait the 72 hour wait period.

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